News & Events
Eckerd Prepared Pinellas County Urban League President/CEO Watson Haynes '84 for Any Challenge
By Mary Ellen Collins
People who know Watson Haynes '84 as a passionate and active community leader might be surprised to know that originally he wanted to be an engineer because, "I figured I could sit in a corner and not be bothered."
Haynes spent 13 years taking classes at St. Petersburg College on and off while raising his family and working his way up in Florida's Department of Labor. After being promoted nine times and going as far as he could there, he focused on finishing his education and getting a bachelor's degree.
"I called Eckerd, and this fellow Jerry Dreller (Professor of Language and former Director of the Program for Experienced Learners) said, 'We have a program geared for people like you who work and have a family.' I told him I hadn't been to college in a while and I'm two credits short of an AA degree, but he convinced me this was the program for me."
Haynes graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Public Administration, and credits many of his subsequent successes to Eckerd's preparation.
"They told me Eckerd students take wing, and I did not believe that. But Eckerd gave me wings. I'm not afraid of any task. When Governor Jeb Bush asked me to serve on the Swiftmud (Southwest Florida Water Management District) board, he said, 'Do you know anything about water? I said, 'I drink it and I water my lawn with it.' And he said, " I'm about to appoint you to the Swiftmud board. I want some innovation, and I want to clean up its image. … I eventually became treasurer, then vice chair, and board chair. Eckerd forces you to know that you can take on any challenge."
Haynes has spent three decades in constant motion on the educational, professional and volunteer fronts. He received a Master's degree in Management from National Louis University, Tampa Campus and an Associate's degree in Theology from Florida Theological Seminary. He was founder and president of the Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free St. Petersburg; co-founder of Community Housing Solutions, Inc.; and a national trainer for the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America. He has served on numerous boards, and is currently president of the Midtown Rotary Club and the Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students, Inc., and is a member of the Pinellas Education Foundation's Parents for Pinellas Students Committee.
Before becoming President and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League last year, he had served as St. Petersburg College's Education and Community Outreach Coordinator, a position he describes as "the sweetest job I'd ever had."
"President Law tapped me and said let's make things happen," he says. "He allowed me to do things I really wanted to do. He said, 'Your charge is to get with Gibbs High School and find out what SPC can do to make Gibbs turn around.' I reached out to the entire SPC community, and we got 135 college employees involved, at all levels. They did everything—teachers talking to teachers, speaking at career days, helping students. It was an F school and we got it to 4 points from an A."
Haynes had applied twice for the top job at the Urban League, but decided not to throw his hat in the ring this time because he was so happy at St. Petersburg College. However, a trusted colleague said, "It's more than just you taking a job. This is bigger than you. This is a chance for you to be the decision maker." So he applied again and the third time was the charm. The Urban League board has identified its priorities as education, housing, and community development—a perfect match for the issues Haynes has worked on and fought for through the years.
"Service is the price you pay for the space you occupy," he says. "It's a natural part of what I do. If all you've got to say at the end of your life is, 'I did everything I could for myself,' you've not achieved very much."
This feature is the fifth in a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni, faculty and staff who embody Eckerd's longstanding culture of service through their livelihoods and/or their volunteer activities. Through speaker presentations, campus initiatives and these profiles, Eckerd College's 2012-2013 Presidential Events Series, Cultivating Service: People, Politics Planet, demonstrate that service for the greater good can be achieved through scientific research, civil and public servant leadership, environmental protection, social justice action and commentary, foreign diplomacy, time in the armed forces, pro bono legal counsel and hands-on projects.